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The Migrant Trail: what’s next?

US Vice President Kamala Harris has said the United States’ relationship with Mexico is entering “a new era”, as she met with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) in Mexico City on June 8.

While immigration stands at the core of Joe Biden’s political agenda, Washington continues to face major challenges in designing the successful strategy. Speaking in the White House briefing room on March 15, press Secretary Jen Psaki showed deep concerns about the migration crisis that is affecting Central America.Similarly, in her recent visit to Guatemala Kamala Harris has urged would-be migrants not to try to enter the United States illegally.

Biden’s immigration-focused plans

Since the beginning of his candidacy, Joe Biden made sweeping promises to adopt alternative policies to reform U.S. immigration. Soon after his arrival at the White House, the President reaffirmed his willingness to address the issue of immigration from Central America to the United States and took concrete shifts in policy. On Biden’s first day in office, Trump’s policy was suspended and tens of thousands of asylum seekers waiting in Mexico were allowed to enter the US while getting their hearings.

Another reform proposed was a major immigration bill to smooth the process to obtain US citizenship. In the long run, more than 10.000 undocumented people who currently live in the United States are expected to become US residents. In the same way, refugee’s management and child protection received urgent attention too.

This month Vice President Kamala Harris took her first overseas trip to meet with Guatemalan President Alejandro Eduardo Giammattei Falla, and Mexican President AMLO to discuss a memorandum to set up a common strategy on development programs in the Northern Triangle. All of them recognized the need for a safe and regular migration, as well as the dignity and rights of migrants, but the contours of those agreements are still taking shape.

While the administration plans to invest up to $ 4 billion per year in these countries to “tackle the root causes” of immigration like corruption, violence, poverty, and the lack of opportunities, Vice President Harris has made a clear statement: “the United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border. There are legal methods by which migration can and should occur […]. And I believe, if you come to our border, you will be turned back”.

What’s the problem?

According to the latest UNHCR Report, the sum of people seeking international protection in Mexico in 2019 was nearly 20 times more than in 2015. In the first semester of 2021, individuals asking for the status of refugee in the United States reached 22,606. The overall number of undocumented migrants is now higher than at the same point in any of the previous three years.

Alberto Hernández, President of Colegio de la Frontera, explains that one of the main complexities of countering Mexican migration lies in its dual nature. On the one hand, Mexico serves as a country of transit for all people coming from “the Northern Triangle”. On the other hand, the number of Mexicans who want to reach the US is also growing at a faster speed because of Mexican President’s poor management of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Because of geographical reasons, Mexico is the single doorway to the United States for the entire southern region of the continent. Millions of people have already embarked on a journey from the North of Central America – a region comprising El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras – also called “the Migrant Trail”. Fleeing from violence, seeking a job, or other reasons alike, migrants commit to a 3,000 miles voyage full of dangers, such as drug cartels and gangs, corruption of patrols, kidnapping, assaults, deportation, abuses, and human trafficking.

A long history of migration

The history of Mexicans’ presence in the United States traces back to the 19th century when people from Mexico were incorporated into the United States mainly through military conquest. By the beginning of the 20th century, legal Mexican migration towards the United States was spurred by the Braceros program, a series of US-financed agreements aimed to repopulate the rural south of the country. However, when US domestic demand was met, migrants were no longer needed. Thus, by the end of the 1950s the abolition of the Braceros program had led to a spark in illegal migration that persisted throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The scope of bilateral relations between the United States and Mexico is complex, encompassing extensive historical, cultural, and commercial ties. Sharing some 2.000 miles of border, Mexico is a strategic ally for the United States. Thus, domestic and foreign policies of both countries have mutual impacts on the daily life of their citizens.

What we can expect

Although the reasons for migration are deeply embedded in the countries of origin, experts argue that US Vice-President Harris could help address a record increase in migrants at the Mexico-United States border, if she is able to deepen diplomatic relations and build trust with both Guatemala and Mexico.“Talks will keep going on economic development, anti-corruption initiatives, civil society’s engagement and support, climate, and food insecurity”, Kamala Harris said. According to many policy analysts, the effectiveness of the new agreements will significantly depend upon the US ability to influence AMLO in a positive way. Notwithstanding, a shift in paradigm in US foreign policy that focuses on Mexico’s qualitative growth rather than on the mere fight against drug trafficking is also desirable.

All considered, favourable preconditions for effective changes have been laid down during the first months of Harris’ diplomatic relations with the southern neighbours.

Author: Maddalena Sartor


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